Gems From James - Chapter 1

Bond-slaves

James, elder of the Lord’s church in Jerusalem, was well-qualified to write this catholic (or universal) epistle. Practical and punchy, the letter has continued through the history of the church to exhort the brethren of Jesus to spiritual heights and to get them to quit playing silly mind games.

One of the things plainly apparent from the Bible is that human nature has not changed through the millennia. And to the extent that the new creatures in Christ have not yet crucified the practices of their flesh, to that extent problems crop up in the assemblies of the saints. Enter James, son of Joseph and Mary, half-brother of Jesus, shepherd of Jerusalem’s saints, with his inspired directives to Christians and to the church as a whole.

This letter, then, was written, “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” This letter is written to Christians, not to Jews of the Dispersion. The expression, “twelve tribes,” therefore, is a reference to the spiritual Israel which in God’s plan had supplanted the nation Israel according to the flesh.

 

 

All Joy

Attitude is everything! The true religion of Christianity, then, should produce the greatest of attitudes among its followers. After all, at the core is something called the gospel, the good news. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” is the affirmation of Paul, “and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3,4). The hope of eternity, the sense of victory over sin, self, and circumstance, should produce a vibrancy of spirit, an infectious salubrity such that all should be attracted to the virtues of the message of Christ. Happy though suffering, hopeful though persecuted, first century Christians set a standard of excellence worthy of imitation by twenty-first century Christians. Torn apart by lions in the Coliseums, ripped by the gladiators of the day, burnt at the stake in public spectacles, those early believers pictured kneeling in prayer before the onslaught, joyfully dying for the Lord, is a frame indelibly imprinted on history’s conscience. And some of the credit goes to the epistle of James, sent out to disciples of Christ, “dispersed abroad.”

“These things I have spoken to you,” said the Lord, “that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). One of the tests of faith is whether the Christian is experiencing joy in the midst of his circumstances. Where necessary, shift the focus, and pass the test!

 

 

Endurance

“For you have need of endurance,” bespoke Hebrews’ author. There is a fight to be fought, a faith to be kept, and a course to be finished. Without endurance, none of these is possible.

No one ever said, honestly, that Christianity was some sort of cakewalk. Only the charlatans, purveyors of puff, indicate that followers of Christ are guaranteed blessings in the physical realm. Health — maybe, for a while. Wealth — not likely, though some may have wealth for the distribution of the gospel and assisting those who have need. Happiness — only if the disciple of Christ decides to have joy in his circumstances. Rather, the Christian is following the upward call of God, fighting his way forward against the sewage channels of earth’s courses. “And indeed,” Paul reminded Timothy, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12). “Let us run with endurance,” then, “the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

When some individuals contemplate the endurance process that God is going to put a true disciple of Christ through, their response is, “No thanks!” They want to go to heaven, they want to be lifted up as leaders in the body of Christ, but they don’t want the trials of a true faith. Consequently they devise theologies around the straight path of God. Imitators of Christ, however, “let endurance have its perfect result,” and rejoice when they are considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

 

 

Got Wisdom?

Do the challenges of earthly existence require wisdom? Is there any need to have heavenly counsel in knowing which way to turn in the face of the trials that test the faith? Anyone who is far enough down the spiritual road to ask these questions has already come to a conclusion: God is smarter than men, and the saints of God need His wisdom in order to carry out His will.

Knowledge comes from study. Experience keeps her own dear school. But the wisdom to make a decision about the future without having enough facts, to help people find steps to solving their knotty problems, or to develop creative and honest organizational structures and motivational schemes is going to come from God.

God has infinite wisdom. And, as a good Dad, He is extremely willing to share that wisdom with the members of His family, if only they would just ask.

 

 

Rich and Poor Instructions

Christianity, as that which is given as the end of the ages, has as one of its objectives to destroy artificial distinctions between men. “Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh,” stated Paul to the Corinthians (II Corinthians 5:16). The barrier between Jew and Gentile came down; the two were brought together as equals in the body of Christ, wherein a person’s ancestry is of no consequence. Any sense of total male superiority over female was torn down; a woman’s soul is of equal value, and a woman’s role is of equal value in Christ. The artificial distinction between slave and free was abolished; the slave is the Lord’s freeman, and the master is the Lord’s slave; there are no castes in the church of the living God. Likewise, any sense of economic strata is eliminated inside Christianity. Rich and poor were to leave their distinctions at the door.

This great leveling of “socio-economic” strata is key to enabling the local congregation to function. God has gifted each person with special abilities for working in the local congregation, but if a person’s wealth or position prevents him from humbly working where he needs to work, then it is destructive to the purpose of Christ. Likewise, if a gifted poor man is prevented from exercising his gift due to his poverty, or feels intimidated because of it, then the cause of Christ likewise suffers. Let each, then, lay aside artificial surface distinctions, and get to work!

 

 

More on Trials

As surely as the sun rises upon the surface of earth, so must the trials come. God is willing to endure “with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction … in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:22,23). The vessels of mercy must demonstrate their faith through trials in order to be distinguished from vessels of wrath. Without a period of testing, who could tell the difference between wheat and tares? “If necessary,” gently implied the apostle Peter, “you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6,7). It is worth re-stressing: Faith that is not tested is not really faith! Hence it is that James is going to return to the theme of facing trials with a great attitude.

Those who find happiness or blessings in the Lord are those who enjoy the journey, the adventure of faith. Those who want to coast or find an easy way, or who want the company of those on the broad path, will never find the rejoicing of those who desire the victory in fighting the good fight of faith, and will not be able to persevere. May each, then, be “blessed” of the Lord!

 

 

Temptation and Sin

“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). That Jesus took on flesh is one of the great and powerful truths of the scripture, and is the foundation for all that follows. “Since then the children share in flesh and blood,” expostulated Hebrews’ author, “He Himself likewise also partook of the same” (Hebrews 2:14). The question that comes up in the mind of the contemplator is, “How human was He?” The reason that is a question is because, as the contemplator considers Jesus’ tremendous victories over sin and suffering, he wonders if the Lord wasn’t giving Himself a little edge or advantage over the rest of the race of men. But the word of God is emphatic: “He had to be made like His brethren in all things,” is one statement (Hebrews 2:17). And another powerful one: He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 2:16). Those statements should be sufficient for anyone interested in truth, anyone not trying to run some sort of excuse agenda.

But was Jesus God? “The Word was God,” was the apostle John’s simple answer (John 1:1). “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,” was the apostle Paul’s contribution (Colossians 1:19). Jesus indeed was God in the flesh, but He gave Himself no significant advantage over the sons of men in taking on flesh and in being subject to temptation.

The cycle of sin is no minor whirlpool. To deliver Israel from the Philistines did not cost God the death of His Son, but to break the cycle of sin, it did!

 

 

Goodness of God

Eve followed the cycle of sin. First there was lust for the fruit and an unholy desire to be wise like God. As she allowed that temptation to work in her heart, then she was moved to stretch forth her hand and eat. The lust conceived, it gave birth to the sin of direct disobedience of the clear command of God. And the sin, once accomplished, brought forth spiritual death, as God had told Adam, “For in the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The spiritual death they did die, even though Adam lived physically in the flesh for a total of 930 years.

The descendants of the first pair follow in the same cycle. When each is old enough to know the difference between good and evil, then by each’s choice he follows the lust of his heart and is lost, separated from God. But the reason James brings it up is as a warning to those who are already Christians not to be trapped into the same cycle.

“The scripture cannot be broken,” said Jesus. God is good, His word is good, and He keeps His good word. “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalm 136:2).

 

 

Real First Fruits

“Do not suppose,” said John the Immerser to Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for immersion, “that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father.’ ” The Jewish hierarchy in particular prided itself upon its physical lineage, maintaining essentially that God would bring them into heaven simply because they were of Israel according to the flesh. The Immerser warned them, however, in elevated tones: “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). The apostle Paul, thinking of how God would bring children of Abraham into existence from the ranks of the Gentiles, used this terminology, speaking of God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17). “And if you belong to Christ,” he asseverated, “then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). Through Christ the Almighty was going to bring into existence a people “born from above,” a spiritual people fit to walk with Him and fellowship with Him.

Man is the highest order among the creation instituted at the Genesis. But man is of the earth and not fit to be tabernacled with God in eternity. Hence, with great power in accordance with a plan carefully and willfully executed over the millennia, Christians are generated out of nothing by the word of God, and offered then as the true “first fruits,” holy, spiritual, and acceptable to Him.

 

 

Fitting Exhibition

The letters of the New Testament were written to people who already had the basic definitions and teachings delivered to them. The epistles, then, often remind the readers and hearers of what they already knew, while occasionally adding more information or arguing in defense of doctrines previously delivered. Regarding the bringing forth of “the first fruits among His creatures” — the raising of disciples from the waters of immersion as new creations in Christ — James wrote, “This you know, my beloved brethren” (James 1:19). Some assume that the only information the recipients of the letters had was the information contained in those specific letters; this is a false assumption as evidenced by many such statements as the quotation above. The people in the New Testament churches were taught the basic doctrines now revealed to us in the collection of writings, and thus any information from an epistle, a “gospel account,” the book of Acts, or Revelation is relevant to comprehending any of the epistles or other scriptures.

The first fruits among God’s creatures are not of much value unless they can be exhibited to the world as the best of the harvest. Hence it is fitting that the best of the offering would be exhibited in exemplary behavior, commencing with the characteristics of being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. May the exhibition continue!

 

 

The Righteousness of God

“And there is no other God besides Me,” announced the Almighty through His servant Isaiah, “a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me” (Isaiah 45:21). God indeed is a righteous God, and He desires to produce His righteousness in the sons of men. What a marvel it is, that the Master of the universe would not only redeem a fallen creature, but would impute His righteousness to him with the comprehension that imputed righteousness is to produce practicing righteousness! “Little children, let no one deceive you,” exhorted the apostle John, “the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (I John 3:7). “He made Him who knew no sin,” affirmed Paul, “to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

Be slow to anger, then, was the caution of James, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Implicit in this statement is that there is a general category called “the anger of man,” and by contrast a category styled “the anger of God” or “righteous anger.” “Be angry, and yet do not sin,” is Paul’s injunction to the Ephesian brethren; “do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26,27). The goal of God is for the anger of a Christian to be the same anger He has about sin and Satan. The anger of man is a selfish type of rage, a being upset over his plans’ being thwarted or someone’s not meeting his expectations. The anger of God is an unselfish indignation and eventual wrath over the destruction caused by the rebellion of the devil and the death and devastation resulting from man’s participation in Satan’s deceptive schemes.

The solution is for each person to “receive the word implanted,” which is able to save the soul of the lost one and transform his character into the righteousness of God. Let the transformation begin!

 

 

The Word Implanted

While the word of God today is basically black words on white pages, bound in book form, it does not mean it is without power. Biblically, the written word is regarded as equivalent to the spoken word. When the apostle Paul, for example, wrote to the brethren in Rome, as he discussed certain promises to Abraham, he noted: “As it is written, ‘A father of many nations I have made you.’ ” He further stated, in the same context, “… that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ ” (Romans 4:17,18). Thus the written is equated to that which had been spoken. God, then, has now “spoken to us in His Son,” and Jesus’ “voice” is heard by those who read and heed what is written. The “voice” which speaks from the black (and occasionally red) on white is the same voice which spoke into existence the heavens and the earth in six days, and the same voice which thundered the Commandments from the top of Sinai. Just because it is written does not mean it is sterile or without power.

To really be implanted, the word must be memorized. Hearing the preaching and teaching of the word helps, but it alone does not drive the words of life deep enough into the inner man. Teaching the word is excellent, as the repetition of certain passages that show up in expounding the scriptures results in memorization coupled with application. But to get major chunks of the holy writ into our heads, the only way is the direct, head-on, frontal approach of memorizing. Let it be reiterated: the only way the word can be implanted is for it to be memorized. That’s how Jesus did it.

 

 

Doers of the Word

There are three that must line up in order for the claimant to be a true disciple of Christ: mind, mouth, and motion. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). Failure to abide — to live in — God’s word is a demonstration of lack of discipleship. But abiding in God’s word will result in renewing of the mind, discipline of the mouth, and motion in the proper direction, all of which are necessary to for the individual to “prove” that he is a doer of the word and not just a hearer. Thus, even from the beginning of his conversion, the saint is in the process of bringing all these three elements into subjection to the Father in heaven. Once the individual has believed in the testimony of the Word concerning Jesus, he is to repent, that is, to bring the mind into submission. Then he is to confess Jesus as Lord, bringing the mouth under the discipline, followed by his immersion into Christ, which is the motion of submitting the body to burial and for resurrection to walk in newness of life. Brotherhood with Christ begins with “doing the word,” and is to continue throughout the years of his sojourn on the plains and pathways of earth.

God wants proven doers of the word. The positive effect of the mirror, then, is to alter the mind of the disciple of Christ. He ceases to view himself as sinner, and takes the robes of a saint. He no longer looks at himself as the hateful and destructive old self, but he sees himself as a new creation in Christ Jesus. As this image shift takes place in his mind, then the mouth and the motion follow, and the brother thereby exhibits the effects of the word implanted. Woe to him to takes the casual glance into the mirror. Blessings be upon him who “looks intently.”

 

 

Mirror, Mirror, Forming All

The mind is programmable. More than that, it is reprogrammable! “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed,” the prophet cried out to the remnant of the nation, “and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31). Israel of the flesh was unable to step up to the level of making themselves a new heart and a new spirit; Israel of the Spirit is able to do so, but only by looking into the “mirror.” What good news! What hope! is now brought to view by the mercy and love of God! The gates of salvation and the mechanism of change have now been opened to everyone; a person’s past, his level of education, or his socio-economic status is of no consequence, for “whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (Romans 10:11).

Mirror, mirror, forming all; who’s the fairest of us all? Fairest is Jesus the Lord, from whose mouth comes the sharp sword. Out of His reflection in the mirror (now complete, and much clearer), beams of radiance gloriously shower those transformed by its spiritual power.

 

 

Law of Liberty

Responsibility, maturity, and liberty go together. A child, noted the apostle Paul, “does not differ at all from a slave” (Galatians 4:1). The reason for lack of liberty for the child is that the child does not have the maturity level to be able to handle the complexities and decisions connected with adult life. Nations, like Israel in her history, plunge into despotism because the people as a whole did not have sufficient morality and responsibility to remain free. Without responsibility and maturity, there can be no lasting liberty.

Liberty is not to be confused with license. Liberty is the freedom to be up at 5:00 am, milking the cows, feeding the horses, and getting ready for a full day’s work on private property. License is partying all night the night before, finally rolling out of the rack at 11:00 am, drinking some wake-up coffee, ducking chores by finding some excuse to go into town, and hoping the money from the inheritance will last a while longer. License is always offered to those who have liberty as a corrupting influence; the easy way is presented as an alternative to the right way, and individuals and nations thus decay rather than prosper. “Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,” posited Paul (Galatians 5:13). “Act as free men,” exhorted Peter, “and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil” (I Peter 2:16). “Ungodly persons,” affirmed Jude, “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). Spiritual liberty, like political liberty, is precious, and it needs to be understood to be preserved. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free,” observed the apostle Paul. “Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Where there is liberty, there is opportunity for license. The responsible Christian will not choose license, but will appreciate the grace of God in His offering opportunity for continued efforts in improvement. Others, perhaps reacting against license and frustrated at their own moral lapses, will try to impose law or standards of conduct on others. Of such, the Lord said, “You too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Brethren, understand and abide by the perfect law, the law of liberty.

 

 

Effectual Doers

Where there is liberty, there is possibility for self-deception. The natural tendency for the immature is to quit being responsible when no one is looking, and then to engage in some sort of self-justification to cover for the irresponsibility. The new covenant, by contrast, produces a new race of royal priests who joyfully accept the responsibilities of sonship in Christ. But, because the reprogramming process takes time and because the old self can get a resurrection, warnings have to be sounded for the new creatures. “Prove yourselves doers of the word,” James had counseled, “and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” The Christian is confronted with the concept that in every situation there is a choice: doing or deception!

The effectual doers are the ones who shake the world with their prayers. They are the ones whose care and influence circle the globe. They are the ones whose consistency and character are modeled, whose desire to reach the lost is imitated, and whose perseverance stands as great encouragement for those seeking to increase their faith. Such effectual doers are truly blessed in what they do.

 

 

Bridle the Tongue

The transforming power of the gospel is centered on the revealed picture of Christ in glory. It is axiomatic that if an individual focuses on himself, the selfishness entailed in such a look is destructive. Therefore the Almighty has designed the mechanism for change such that the Christian must focus on the radiant Jesus; this directs self-destructive attention away from the individual, and fixates on Him who is worthy of glory and honor. Embodying the principle that whatever beholds the glory of God is transformed into the likeness of that same glory, this mechanism for change requires that the saint look “intently at the perfect law,” with the result that the former stranger to the covenants of promise now becomes an effectual doer of the perfect law. God is thus glorified, and the disciple of Christ is transmogrified.

“And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak,” Jesus informed the world, “they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:36,37). Bridle your tongue!

 

 

Pure Religion

The purpose of the intent look into the mirror is to alter the mind of the follower of Christ. A true alteration of thought processes will provide true alteration of speech and behavior patterns. Hence our God and Father is very concerned with the attitude and actions of His children; “Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance,” are words that resound for all who trust in Christ (Matthew 3:8).

The tongue is to be brought under the discipline of the new heart of the Christian. Out of the old, corrupted heart of man, for example, come things like slandering and false witness. A new creature in Christ who fails to “bridle his tongue,” James stated, “but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Worthless religion will not carry a person’s eternal soul into the courts of heaven!

Not only has the tongue to be controlled, but the rest of the Christian’s body needs to be put in motion and directed properly. James therefore writes of what he calls “pure and undefiled religion” which focuses on the discipline and direction of the outer man.

The Pharisees, said Jesus, were like whitewashed tombs, who looked good on the outside but on the inside were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Pure and undefiled religion, by contrast, results in a people who are holy on the inside, and whose holiness is reflected in control of the tongue and discipline of the body. These, then, are the “doers of the word.”